Ridiculous claims are not expected, however, from teachers within the church. Yet some very inaccurate statements about Mark 16:9-20 continue to emanate from commentaries written by Christians. This is having an impact on the contents of preaching and teaching. For example, Bob McCartney, a preacher with two seminary degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told his congregation in 2011 that no manuscripts contain Mark 16:9-20 until the 800’s, and he made several other false statements. Of course he did not intend to misinform anyone; he himself was misled by the commentators he had trusted.
So many commentaries contain mistakes and inaccuracies about Mark 16:9-20 that it would require several blog-posts to review and correct them all. (Norman Geisler and John MacArthur have been spreading so much misinformation on this subject for so long that they should be near the top of the list.) Today, just as a way of illustrating the problem, let’s look at what has been said about Mark 16:9-20 by a man who is, perhaps, the most influential commentator alive: N. T. Wright. Let’s consider his statements about the ending of Mark in his 2003 book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, a little at a time:
Such as the damaged manuscript 2386? The damaged commentary-manuscript 304? What?? Over 1,640 Greek manuscripts of Mark have been identified. Which ones, specifically, are the “several” others in which the text clearly stops at the end of 16:8?
’s Textual Commentary here? Metzger mentioned that Clement of Alexandria and Origen “show no knowledge” of verses 9-20. Unfortunately Metzger did not also mention that Clement shows no knowledge of 12 chapters of the Gospel of Mark, and Metzger did not mention that Origen similarly shows no knowledge of much larger segments of Mark. Plus, if one is going to mention the silence of Clement and Origen, does it not seem a tad one-sided when a writer fails to mention the testimony from early patristic writers such as Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus (in the 100’s) and the pagan writer Hierocles (in the very early 300’)? Is their testimony not worth mentioning?
This “most” is more like 99.9%. One can understand why Bible footnotes, which must be concise, use terms such as “Some” and “Most” and “Other” when referring to manuscript-evidence. But such terminology in a commentary is a sign of either sloppy research or a desire to allow readers to see only what the commentator wants them to see.
four + “some” = eight. [Update: in 2015 there were six such MSS; as of 2022 there are eight.] Eight Greek manuscripts contain the Shorter Ending. And Wright is wrong about something here. All six contain at least part of the usual 12 verses. The manuscript that contains only the Shorter Ending after (most of) verse 8 is Codex Bobbiensis, which is (badly) written in Latin, not in Greek, and which is assigned to the early 400’s, not to the centuries listed by Wright.
Out of 1,643 Greek manuscripts that include verses 9-20, fifteen have special notes about those verses. If 15 manuscripts make “a good many,” what do the other 99% make?! The notes in these 15 manuscripts are similar; that is, these are not 15 unrelated witnesses; they are members of groups, like twigs on a branch.
In one manuscript (MS 138), an asterisk draws the reader’s attention to a note (very difficult to read, but which probably says “some copies end here”); the same manuscript also has the note about Mark 16:9-20 which one typically finds in copies in which the Catena Marcum (a collection of comments compiled by, and augmented, by Victor of Antioch) accompanies the text; the note defends the inclusion of the passage. The asterisk in 138 serves the same purpose that asterisks typically serve today: to draw the reader’s attention to the marginalia – not “to indicate that the passage is regarded as of doubtful authenticity.”
In MS 199, a short note says, “In some of the copies, this [i.e., verses 9-20] does not appear, but the text stops here” [i.e., at the end of 16:8].
A note in
A note in
If Wright or anyone else knows of any other examples in which an asterisk appears between Mark 16:8 and 16:9, but it is not to draw the reader’s attention to an ordinary lection-break or to marginalia, let’s have it! Otherwise, Christian commentators – not just Wright, but also Wallace, MacArthur, Witherington, Edwards, etc., etc. – need to stop describing the evidence in unfocused, vague, imprecise, one-sided, sloppy and erroneous ways.
If Wright can be this wrong, just about any commentator can be wrong. On this subject, do not trust any commentator who does not present the evidence in focused detail. (And if it looks like the commentator was just rephrasing Metzger’s Textual Commentary, if you do not want to become a source of misinformation yourself, stop reading!)